ROCHELLE — Not more than a few minutes had passed when Nick Marshall took a second to reflect on his accomplish.
Marshall, who often toes the line between politely shy and incredibly quiet, stood on the sidelines of the Georgia Dome in December smiling and hugging friends and neighbors from Rochelle just after he led the Wilcox County Patriots to the GHSA Class A football championship.
With the adrenaline pumping from his team’s comeback victory over Savannah Christian, the junior talked about what it meant to lead his school to a football championship. As if he knew the question was coming, Marshall had a big smile when a reporter asked about the upcoming basketball season.
“I think we will have a better team in basketball than we had (during my sophomore year),” he said. “We want to get another ring. I think we can.”
Marshall’s confidence wasn’t surprising.
The Patriots advanced to the Final Four in 2009, and they only lost one starter from that team.
Marshall will get that chance to lead his team to a second state championship this school year beginning at 8:30 p.m. today when the Patriots play Wesleyan in the A Final Four at the Coliseum.
Wilcox County (26-2) will be attempt to become the first school in 20 years to win a state championship in boys basketball and football in the same school year. Mitchell-Baker won both in AA during the 1989-1990 school year. Dublin won both in a calendar year when it won the 2005-06 boys basketball championship and the 2006 football championship.
“Almost everybody on the team played football, and we’re real hungry to get another ring,” senior Lonnie Outlaw said. “We had that confidence from the first day of practice.”
That first day of practice came the day after Wilcox County beat Savannah Christian 30-21, at the Dome.
Because all but one basketball player played football, the Patriots had little time to make up for missed practices during the football playoffs. The championship game was on Saturday, the first practice Sunday and the first game Tuesday.
Wilcox County played three games in the eight days following the football season. It won all three. The first game was a two-point win over Marion County. The Patriots played Marion a week later and won by 39.
“I think it took a few days to get from football shape into basketball shape,” Wilcox County head coach George Kennedy said. “It takes some time to get used to basketball. But they got into basketball shape fast.”
The Patriots won their first eight games, including winning the Irwin County Christmas tournament. Losses to Turner County and Dooly County during a span of 12 days did nothing to push Wilcox County off track. The Patriots peaked late in their Final Four run in 2009. They were coming together much quicker this season, even with the two losses — they played Turner County and Dooly County three more times combined and won the three by an average of 27 points.
“I think our experience helped this year,” sophomore Quez Mahogoney said. “Last year, we were trying to come together. We have played a lot of basketball and football together this year. We’re comfortable together.”
Mahogoney’s claim seems substantiated in the Patriots’ playoff results.
In 2009, Wilcox County needed a one-point win over Brookstone just to get into the state tournament. The Patriots had a 1-point win over Central-Talbotton and then lost to Greenville in the region tournament semifinals. They won three playoff games — each by less than 10 points — over Clinch County, Calvary Day and Wilkinson County before losing by 24 to Whitefield Academy at the Coliseum.
In 2010, Wilcox County cruised in two region tournament wins and has won each of its three state playoff games by more than 10 points.
“These guys know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Kennedy said. “They’ve been on the football field a lot. They’ve been on the court together a lot. They have a lot of experience and confidence. I think they believe they can win (the state championship).”